Gorgi Kosev

code, music, math


Closures are unavoidable in node

Fri Aug 23 2013

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a giant comparison of node.js async code patterns that mostly focuses on the new generators feature in EcmaScript 6 (Harmony)

Among other implementations there were two callback versions: original.js, which contains nested callbacks, and flattened.js, which flattens the nesting a little bit. Both make extensive use of JavaScript closures: every time the benchmarked function is invoked, a lot of closures are created.

Then Trevor Norris wrote that we should be avoiding closures when writing performance-sensitive code, hinting that my benchmark may be an example of "doing it wrong"

I decided to try and write two more flattened variants. The idea is to minimize performance loss and memory usage by avoiding the creation of closures.

You can see the code here: flattened-class.js and flattened-noclosure.js

Of course, this made complexity skyrocket. Lets see what it did for performance.

These are the results for 50 000 parallel invocations of the upload function, with simulated I/O operations that always take 1ms. Note: suspend is currently the fastest generator based library

file time(ms) memory(MB)
flattened-class.js 1398 106.58
flattened.js 1453 110.19
flattened-noclosure.js 1574 102.28
original.js 1749 124.96
suspend.js 2701 144.66

No performance gains. Why?

Because this kind of code requires that results from previous callbacks are passed to the next callback. And unfortunately, in node this means creating closures.

There really is no other option. Node core functions only take callback functions. This means we have to create a closure: its the only mechanism in JS that allows you to include context together with a function.

And yeah, bind also creates a closure:

function bind(fn, ctx) {
    return function bound() {
        return fn.apply(ctx, arguments);

Notice how bound is a closure over ctx and fn.

Now, if node core functions were also able to take a context argument, things could have been different. For example, instead of writing:

fs.readFile(f, bind(this.afterFileRead, this));

if we were able to write:

fs.readFile(f, this.afterFileRead, this);

then we would be able to write code that avoids closures and flattened-class.js could have been much faster.

But we can't do that.

What if we could though? Lets fork timers.js from node core and find out:

I added context passing support to the Timeout class. The result was timers-ctx.js which in turn resulted with flattened-class-ctx.js

And here is how it performs:

file time(ms) memory(MB)
flattened-class-ctx.js 929 59.57
flattened-class.js 1403 106.57
flattened.js 1452 110.19
original.js 1743 125.02
suspend.js 2834 145.34

Yeah. That shaved off a couple of 100s of miliseconds more.

Is it worth it?

name tokens complexity
suspend.js 331 1.10
original.js 425 1.41
flattened.js 477 1.58
flattened-class-ctx.js 674 2.23

Maybe, maybe not. You decide.